Hearts and Heroes|
In the 1940's and 50's, January brought us little in Chicago but frigid days and icy sidewalks. Thirty-one days of snow piling up, indoor recess, and head colds passed around our classroom left us longing for some excitement.
As soon as our teacher turned the page of the big calendar on the classroom wall to February, the dreary days disappeared, and we had something to look forward to. In every grade, February 12th was celebrated. We attended Lincoln School, named for our sixteenth president. In those days, the state of Illinois recognized this great statesman with speeches in the state capitol, stories in the newspapers and on the radio, even running essay contests about Honest Abe for school children. At our school, we had Lincoln’s birthday as a holiday every other year. In the alternate years, we were given the day off on George Washington’s birthday, the 22nd of February.
Our teachers decorated bulletin boards with the red, white, and blue patriotic colors and information about the two men. One year we all cut out silhouettes of both Lincoln and Washington and placed them on the windows and walls of our classroom. Seeing them every day imprinted their likeness on my mind forever. As we got into the intermediate grades, we read about these two revered presidents. First, we learned the stories of their boyhoods. What a fascinating tale George, his axe and the cherry tree made. Hadn’t we all been confronted by a parent when we’d done something we shouldn’t have? And didn’t we learn something about truthfulness with this story? Who could forget the story of Abe Lincoln studying borrowed books by the light of the fire? Or the long, long walk he took to return a penny to a storekeeper who’d returned too much change to him.
We learned about their achievements as adults, the experiences that led them both to the highest honor in the land. We studied the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, always keeping the roles of these two men in mind. What a way to show us what could be achieved when we saw that a boy who cut down a cherry tree became the Father of our country. We gloried in details about the men, like Washington’s false teeth made of wood. Lots of the stories we’ve since learned were proven to be only “stories” passed down through the years. It doesn’t matter to me now, if they were all true or only partially true. The important thing was that the stories taught me a great deal about these two men, about life, and about my country.
Valentines Day was sandwiched between the presidents’ birthdays. We cut out hearts, we drew hearts, we colored hearts. We wrote our names in hearts, and as we got older, we paired our names in a heart with the name of the object of our affections. Whoever he may have been that week! How I loved the decorated boxes lined up in each classroom that served as our mailbox. What excitement to watch our classmates slip their valentines into the boxes, one by one. We opened our valentines while we munched on frosted cupcakes or heart-shaped sugar cookies and sipped red punch brought to school by our Room Mothers.
The shortest month of the year provided knowledge and entertainment and took our minds off the cold, snowy days of winter.